Beadwork and a 'Pleasure Principle' moment!!!
So who watched the Billboard Music awards last night ? I caught about a good ten minutes of it : Janet Jackson's performance which was really the reason i tuned in last night and the last performance by Salt N' Pepa which I enjoyed! But Janet tho! She not only gave the most beautiful acceptance speech (for her icon award) highlighting Love, respect, God, women empowerment, salutation and acknowledgment of the #metoo movement but she turned up my excitement when I saw the neck and wrist party of Masai bead works. I was like yes mama show them who you are repping! This is not the first time Janet has shown us the beauty of the continent Africa. Let me take it back to the 'Got till it's gone' music video which highlighted the contributions of African studio portraiture artists ( like the Late Malick Sidibe ) to the African experience(s) and narratives. I suggest you check out the music video and the works of Sidibe. Sooo. about these beads...lets talk beads.
Beads and Bead works are some of Africa's oldest artifacts and practice respectively which are fortunately not showing signs of letting up. Nevertheless, it has definitely evolved. African artisans continue to create beadworks unique to their tribe and regions. Beads come in various forms (brass, bone, shells, glass terra-cotta, coral, ivory, seeds, et cetera) and used for various customs depending on the giver/wearer and their region in the continent. Below are some of the uses.
CURRENCY... Beads were used to trade through west and Northern Africa for many years. For instance the Aggri beads (Ghana) and Cowrie shells
DIVINE COMMUNICATION /MEDICINAL PURPOSES ... I have never seen this live in a shrine but the Nigerian movie industry have provided quite some imagery about this. Beads are used as rituals along with stones and every other natural element by the spritualist or spiritual healers to communicate with the ancestors. Beads can be contained in gourds or amulets to ward of evil spirits. This is an old form of traditional medicine. It was believed that ailments were as a result of evil spirits. Therefore, these amulets were worn to ward those spirits off. In many regions in Africa, a new born is given an amulet for spiritual and physical protection as well as the dead during burial for a peaceful transition.
BOARD GAMES... Beads are also used for form of board game also known as Mancala. There are various forms of these bead games for example the Owari and Boa (Tanzania), and Ayo (Yoruba, Nigeria). My mother loved playing Ncholo or okwe (Igbo, Nigeria) when she was a kid.
WAIST BEADS... This is probably one of the uses that's commonly known by most. I say this because this is the most common request I get from folks when they learn I'm going home... besides food that is haha! So what is the purpose of waist beads ? In some tribes in Africa, waist bead is a symbol of womanhood, femininity, fertility, seduction, and wealth. Some use it for protection, healing, body shaping, monitoring weight and confirming pregnancy.
ADORNMENT... The last and most popularly known use of the beads. Perhaps, the mesmerizing colors of the beads, it is easily seen or accessible unlike a spiritual session in a shrine.
I say this to say that we should now know that over the centuries beads have been more than articles of jewelries. It has served as a symbol of social status, religious beliefs and political stance. As a form of currency, it's been bartered for gold, properties and slaves...yes slaves. Surely, beads are ethnographically important for our identity. For this reason alone, when my little teenage self found out cowries was a form of currency, I never viewed it as just a shell but something that definitely changed the course of history in many ways. I still cherish my very first cowry neck piece that I bought in a gift shop at some Lagos hotel where my family and I lodged at before we migrated to the United States. Feed ya eyes with more beautiful adornment images below. Until next time beYOUtifuls!!!